The Washington Post’s Cecilia Kang has an interview with University of Pennsylvania Professor Joseph Turow, who was in town to testify before the Senate at a hearing on consumer online privacy. Here are a few of the questions, but you should read the full interview.
Q: You said in the hearing yesterday, that dashboards on user data and more options for privacy settings are a smokescreen. You said they don’t really tell users how their information is being tracked. Explain.
A: In an ideal world, I think dashboards [Web applications that allow users to track how their data are being used and collected] are a good idea. The problem is that companies that use these, like Google, don’t really give you a whole lot of information. Sometimes it comes out like a marketing activity. Instead of saying, “Here is what we know about you and here is how you can shut this and that off,” they only give partial information of what advertisers get.
Q: Are you saying companies like Google, AT&T and Facebook are creating more sophisticated profiles of you based on your activity online?
A: Google will let advertisers know your age and gender. Google will allow marketers to remarket to you – so that if a marketer has an experience with you in past and has a cookie about you, the marketer can follow you on Google’s display network and follow you. And the marketer brings a whole lot of data to that activity that has to do with interest categories for example. So it’s a continual iteration of categories about people and marketers that they can bring to Google’s display network. […]
Q: What other suggestions have you made?
A: I’m beginning to believe we need ground-level regulation lessen the size of people’s reputations. There should be a discussion about how many data points can be collected. Should they know your gender or race or income or how much you spent on a house? Can you have hundreds of these data points or less?